Editor's note: Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues -- everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.
Here's a roundup of answers to five questions from readers.
1. My coworker's kids are running wild in our office
I work at a large company that values working moms and dads and offers generous benefits for families (like health benefits, flexible schedules, and time off). My department shares our floor with a department led by a very nice guy who I will call Clive. Clive is friendly, smart, and as highly valued and popular as an employee can be within the company. He's also a working dad, and on days when his kids are off from school, he brings them to the office--all four of them, and all under the age of 12--and works a full day. He does not supervise them while they're here, and they run wild (they are kids, after all), turning our floor into their playroom.
Needless to say, everything about this situation drives everybody in my department nuts: the noise (a quiet work environment is necessary for my department), Clive's lack of supervision of his children, and his seeming cluelessness about how bringing them to the office for a full workday could be disrespectful of his colleagues' work.
I've discussed this with my own supervisor (and her supervisor as well), but I get the impression that nobody knows what to do. My supervisors are failingly polite, and I think they feel it's an issue for HR to handle. But is it? And if it is, am I in a position to go to HR about it, or should it be my supervisors?
Your managers are falling down on the job here. This is absolutely something they should be handling. They should be telling Clive directly that either (a) he can't bring his kids into work (possibly making an exception for very rare emergencies; some places allow that and some don't), or (b) he needs to closely supervise his kids when they're there and ensure that they don't disrupt others, or the privilege will be revoked. (Whether they should do A or B will depend on the type of work your office does and what the culture is.) It's ridiculous that they're acting as if they're powerless here.
However, since they are, yes, it would absolutely be appropriate for you to talk to HR about it.
2. My manager shares too much about my coworkers
Lately I've found myself in situations where my managers have been oversharing about the performance problems of other employees. At my last job, my boss constantly moaned and complained about my coworkers. While I appreciated that he was not overlooking their lack of action, I would have much preferred that he address the problem with them instead of complain to me about it.
At my new job, I have a great manager who gives good feedback. We met last week to discuss my probationary period, which I passed. He told me that not everyone passes, and then as an example proceeded to tell me that he had to extend the probationary period for a coworker. I like the coworker and felt uncomfortable knowing this information. This is also concerning because if these managers complain about my coworkers to me, they are probably telling other people about performance problems that I have, too. I don't like this kind of office gossip. When this would happen in the past, I'd give a non-committal "Mmmmm...." and then try to change the subject. In the future, is there a polite way to indicate that I don't want to hear about my coworkers' performance?
When you're new on the job, that's harder to do. But once you've established the relationship with your new boss more, you have more leeway to say something. You could try nicely saying something like, "Jane probably wouldn't want people to know that" or "I'm not sure I should hear that about Jane." That said, with a bad manager like your first boss -- because complaining about an employee instead of doing something about it is a mark of a bad manager -- it might be a lost cause, and there might be little you can do.
3. Should I let a company know why I don't want to interview with them?
I'm a freelance feature film VFX artist. Staff jobs in VFX are rare, even for well-experienced artists, so when I was approached directly by a hiring manager about a staff job at a relatively young company, I was quite excited. I agreed to come in for an interview, but since agreeing, I've talked to several people who have worked there and the stories have ranged from bad to genuinely horrible. People I trust have accused them of lying during interviews about how their contracts are set up, forcing people to work lots of unpaid overtime, and shaming underperformers in company-wide emails as "motivation."
Needless to say, I don't want to work at a company like that. My question is, should I tell them what I've heard? I have no desire to turn my nose up and tell them I'm too good for them -- but I wonder if they know how bad their reputation is, and how badly that will affect their ability hire good people. Their careers website focuses heavily on the cool-factor of working in film, which won't be a big sell to anyone with more than a couple years' experience. I'm not sure if I should just stay away and let them figure it out, or if I should mention what I've heard.
What do you hope to gain by explaining why you're withdrawing? There are some risks to being candid (such as burning bridges with people who you might want to work with in the future if they turn up at a different company), and probably not much gain to you. Because of that, the safer approach is to simply cancel the interview and say you've decided it's not the right fit for you. That said, knowing that their practices are costing them good candidates is something that can push a company to reassess how it operates, so there is value in being candid, as you point out. But ultimately, it's just not your responsibility to give them feedback about their reputation at your own possible expense, particularly when it's something that they should be able to figure out on their own, if they cared to do it.
4. Using vacation time on days that my company ends up closing early
Occasionally our company closes early the Friday before a long weekend or the day before a holiday -- say 3-ish and everyone gets full pay. But if I have a scheduled vacation day, I am charged a full 8 hours. Does this pass the smell test?
Yes, that's pretty normal. You're using your vacation time in exchange for a sure thing -- the certainty that you have that time off.
5. I'm annoyed that my new employee started a client meeting without me
Due to unforeseen traffic, I was 15 minutes late for a meeting that was scheduled with one of my new employees and a long-term client at the client's premises. When I arrived, I discovered my employee had entered the client's building and announced she was there for the meeting and had started the meeting without me.
This employee had only been in my department for 4-1/2 months. She had transferred from another department and had no experience with leading meetings or the subject matter.
I was annoyed that she had not waited for me as planned (we had agreed to meet at the client's premises) and felt she had not acted professionally as she had embarrassed me by drawing attention to the fact that it was I who was late. I have never experienced a situation where this was done by a colleague, let alone an employee, either by myself or others. Has business etiquette changed? Is it is now acceptable to embarrass your manager in the presence of a client?
No, it's not okay to embarrass your manager in front of a client, but the issue here isn't really that; it's that you simply need to give her more guidance about how to handle this type of situation in the future. She probably thought that she was doing the right thing in starting the meeting on time so that the client wasn't delayed -- and some managers would have preferred the way she did it, rather than having her wait outside for you, while the client was left waiting. This kind of thing is your call to make, but you need to let her know your preferences.
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